Reynold Poernomo’s relentless pursuit of perfection is what gave him the nickname “dessert king” after his appearance on 2020’s Back To Win series of Masterchef. The returning contestant was adored for his impeccable sweets (just look at his Insta feed) – and plating food as flawlessly as possible is what drives his passion for creative cooking. But even the king understands the best home cooks are the ones who learn how to fail again and again.

“It’s okay to fail. Trying again is what will make you a better cook,” he says in his intro to The Dessert Game, his first cookbook, released in late 2021. “This is one of the reasons why I love what I do – there’s always room for improvement and plenty to learn.”

The Koi Dessert Bar co-owner says his earliest memory of elevating a dessert was when he reached for a bottle of coffee liqueur to add to a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. “And let me tell you, it was delicious,” he writes. Some recipes in the book are childhood favourites, others he’s still perfecting – including his take on a Basque burnt cheesecake, a dessert he only learned about recently.

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“I had no idea what it was before the 2020 Basque cheesecake trend,” he says. Ever since a trip to Hart Bageri bakery in Copenhagen, he’s been obsessed with the “almost mousse-like texture” of a thick wedge of Basque cheesecake. “And I’ve failed many times in trying to recreate it.”

In The Dessert Game, Poernomo is candid about his journey from experimental teen cook to cafe owner and master chef; he recalls volunteering in cafes, picking up skills from Youtube, helping out in his mum’s pastry kitchen, and struggling to nail his studies to get into uni – a pathway he says just wasn’t for him.

“Most of my childhood and school years were spent teaching myself to create, cook and learn the basics and fundamentals of cooking … I was determined to create my own style of cooking and journey into this beautiful world of desserts. It goes to show that anyone can follow instructions and therefore anyone can learn to cook,” he says.

Poernomo’s Basque cheesecake has a honey glaze, which should have the consistency of liquid glucose when you’re brushing it over the cake. It’s borrowed from a recipe shared by former partner Chelia Dinata, who runs Byccino in Bali. (Poernomo helped set up the business.) Once you’ve perfected experimented with your own Basque burnt cheesecake, you can level up to his more advanced recipes, such as chocolate lava s’mores and a flawless praline tart, “building your very own artful creations at home”, he writes.

Poernomo’s burnt honey Basque cheesecake
Serves 4
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

430g cream cheese, softened
100g white granulated sugar
3 eggs
15g plain flour
270ml thickened whipping cream
15ml lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, seeds only

Burnt honey glaze:
150g honey
50ml water

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line an 18cm spring-form cake tin with baking paper.

Put the cream cheese and sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well combined.

Add the flour and mix for a further 3 minutes.

Slowly add the cream, lemon juice and vanilla seeds and mix until smooth and creamy, scraping down the side of the bowl to ensure there are no lumps.

Pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin. Bake for 25–27 minutes – the centre should still be wobbly. Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge.

To make the burnt honey glaze, put the honey in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the edges begin to caramelise and burn a little. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the honey has turned a deep amber, then slowly whisk in the water. (Be careful not to add the water too quickly as it will bubble and spit). Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn off the heat and set aside to cool to 35–40°C.

Evenly brush the cooled honey glaze over the dark surface of the cheesecake. Remove the cheesecake from the tin and serve chilled.

Note: If the honey glaze is rock hard once it’s cooled, dilute it with some water. It should have the consistency of liquid glucose. If it’s too firm to brush over the cheesecake, heat it in the microwave for 8–10 seconds to loosen.

This recipe is an extract from The Dessert Game by Reynold Poernomo, Murdoch Books, $36.99.

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